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Politics


Silverman, White, Gray, and White can form a paint caucus on the next DC Council

Tuesday night, three incumbents lost their primaries for re-election to the DC Council: Robert White beat Vincent Orange at large, Vincent Gray unseated Yvette Alexander in Ward 7, and Trayon White took out LaRuby May in Ward 8. Many observers noticed that there's something similar about all of their last names: They're (achromatic) hues.

We supported Robert White and Gray, and from a policy standpoint, this election means a big step up for the quality of the DC Council. White and Gray will likely cast many better votes than Orange or Alexander would, and write better quality, better thought through legislation as well.

But putting all of the serious stuff aside for a moment, after each election recently I've made a graph of the number of elected officials whose names are also on the Photoshop palette.

While Orange, the most colorful sitting member (literally) lost, the three new ones bring the total up to four, the all-time high last achieved in 2011. That's the three victorious challengers plus Elissa Silverman, who came onto the council two years ago.

(Note that these folks haven't technically won election; they all are on the ballot in November. But in overwhelmingly Democratic DC, a Democrat is virtually assured of winning the general election.)

This chart excludes Carol Schwartz, whose name derives from the German word "schwarz," meaning black. She was on the council from 1985-1989 and again from 1997 to 2009, when Michael Brown defeated her for a non-Democratic at-large seat.

Are there any more Quentin Tarantino characters waiting in the wings for 2018? There's often speculation about a comeback for Kwame Brown or Michael Brown (which, let me say, would be a terrible idea). Orange also could seek another seat in the future; it wouldn't be the first time he left the council and then returned.

Politics


If you live in Arlington or DC, your vote matters on Tuesday!

Virginia had its presidential primary long ago and DC's Democratic primary Tuesday won't affect who wins the nomination. But if you're a Democrat in DC or any voter in Arlington, your vote will absolutely matter in local races. Please vote!


Erik Gutshall (Arlington) and Robert White (DC).

Greater Greater Washington has endorsed Erik Gutshall for Arlington County Board and Robert White for DC Council at large, and Vincent Gray in Ward 7.

Why it's important vote in Arlington

Arlington's race may see low turnout because there's no federal or statewide contest at the same time, but the county board race will have a big impact on the future of Arlington. It's an important election.

Decades ago, Arlington was a declining inner-ring suburb where even getting a Home Depot was a faint hope. But a strategy of creating urban villages around the new Metro system has transformed the county into a national model.

The strong tax base from these urban areas (it gets 60% of its tax revenue from 11% of its land) let the county keep taxes low and services high. But when the recession, sequestration, and BRAC took a big bite out of office occupancy in Arlington, it created an opening for ambitious politicians to attack the county's leaders and appeal to voters who'd rather the county do less rather than more.

Libby Garvey was one of them. She has never articulated a strong vision for moving Arlington forward. For Arlington to retreat into mediocrity by slashing its ambitions to build a better place to live risks sending Arlington back to the past.

Erik Gutshall has demonstrated his commitment to a strong future for Arlington as a member of its planning commission. Also, as the owner of a home services business, he knows what it will take to woo businesses (and keep the county from driving them away); how to spend responsibly but also invest as necessary.

Residents of Arlington can speak loudly on Tuesday for a forward-looking—and responsible-spending—county by showing up to the polls and electing Erik Gutshall.

The primary is open to people of any party registration and all county board seats are elected at large, so all eligible voters can participate. Find your polling place here. Polls are open from 6 am to 7 pm.

Why it's important to vote in DC

While everyone on the DC Council is either a Democrat or a lifelong Democrat registered as an independent, that doesn't mean there aren't big differences between members—liberal versus conservative, urbanist versus not, motivated by a desire to improve DC versus personal ambition.

Too much (often all) of the political coverage is about things like who is on the "Green Team" or not, who's angling for another political office or not, and so on. That's mostly garbage. Greater Greater Washington focused on important issues facing the city, and if you agree with what we talk about, it's important to try to figure out which candidates actually would cast good votes on critical legislation.

Vincent Orange rarely does. Often it seems he doesn't even care about the issue, but is interested in angling for some political advantage, like when he agreed to flip a position on a key tax policy vote in exchange for an earmark for a parade at a theater whose board he's on.

I've talked to Robert White many times and he absolutely believes in the basic values our community holds dear. If you don't believe me, believe all of the other urbanist, environmental, and progressive groups and individuals that are supporting him.

David Garber also shares these values, but White has more experience, more political support, and the best chance of winning. From the beginning, I said I hoped people would figure out which of the two has the strongest support and all run to that side, hard as it might be for some.

Vince Gray was a dedicated, solid supporter of good urbanism, of a sustainable DC, of walking, biking, and transit, of adding housing to keep prices affordable, and much more. He's running against Yvette Alexander, one of the councilmembers who's been most consistently and openly contemptuous of the vision for DC we share here at Greater Greater Washington.

While allegations in a long-running investigation are potentially quite serious, that investigation was concluded with no charges, and he was objectively excellent on policy. Quite simply, having Gray on the council will shift a lot of votes in the right direction, and that matters.

Find your polling place here. You must be a registered Democrat in DC to vote in the Democratic primary (and no other party has a contested race).

Politics


For DC Council in Ward 7: Vince Gray

In DC's Ward 7, mostly east of the Anacostia River, former mayor Vince Gray is running to take back his old seat on the DC Council from Yvette Alexander. We hope voters will return him to the council.

While ethical issues from his campaign marred his mayoralty and serious questions still remain, on the policy issues, he was very strong. He was the champion of DC's ambitious sustainability plan and the forward-thinking moveDC plan which called for bus lanes, protected bikeways, and much more. Under Gray, the DC government set ambitious goals for the future, ones we can only hope the District comes close to achieving.

Even before his term as mayor, he was an excellent councilmember and an excellent chairman. Having him back in the legislature will be a major win for DC. When he chaired the council, he charted a constructive course toward DC's zoning update and other long-term planning processes.

Gray was never shy about saying, loudly and publicly, that DC should reduce its reliance on private cars. He's also been adamant that DC needs more housing. In response to a question on the issue, he said,

The District's zoning laws are arbitrary and impose a significant burden on further growth, especially for affordable housing. As mayor, I fought to change our height limitations in order to allow for the development of more high rise buildings to support more residents. As councilmember, I will support zoning changes to make building more affordable units easier and more straightforward.
Yvette Alexander, on the other hand, has been a poor councilmember. She has shown little to no leadership in her ward to improve bus service, despite the fact that large numbers of her constituents ride the bus and transit to many neighborhoods is not what it could be. (Compare that to Ward 5's Kenyan McDuffie, who recently fought for and won funding for a new express bus line on Rhode Island Avenue.)

Alexander criticized bicycling at a rally about the bikeway on Pennsylvania Avenue and told Dave Salovesh that she wanted to keep being able to make U-turns across the lane (a very dangerous maneuver).

She responded angrily on Twitter when we reported her opposition, insisting she supported barriers on Pennsylvania Avenue, but refused to specifically state she supported them in front of the John A. Wilson Building, where the councilmembers park.

Having Gray back on the council would likely mean a big boost for good public policy. We hope Ward 7 voters will choose him in the Democratic primary. Early voting begins May 31, and election day is June 14. You can find out more about times and places to vote here.

This is the official endorsement of Greater Greater Washington. To determine endorsements, we invite regular contributors and editors to participate in a survey about their preferences and opinions about upcoming races. The editorial board then decides whether to make an endorsement.

Politics


For DC Council at large: Robert White

There's no doubt about it: Vincent Orange should not continue as a DC councilmember. There are two people vying to unseat him who would both make excellent councilmembers. In the Democratic primary on June 14, we urge voters to pick the one who has the best chance to win, and that is Robert White.

Robert White is a good candidate

For a race as important as this, there has sadly been little press coverage and other attention. If you haven't been hyper-engaged in the race, you may know little or nothing about Robert White, which is a shame, because he is a strong supporter of the issues that matter to the Greater Greater Washington community. We endorsed him (along with Elissa Silverman) in the general election two years ago.

White has said he supports rezoning areas such as Georgia Avenue NW, Rhode Island Avenue NE, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE to add housing. He wants to ensure that costs don't spiral out of control for middle-class families. "We have to look at all ways to increase housing options in order to push down the cost of housing," he told Edward Russell.

He's spoken in favor of adding more bus lanes, for expanding the bike lane network, and strengthening Metro, including with more funding as needed.

He has considerable public policy experience through working for many years in the office of Congresswoman Norton and then for DC Attorney General Karl Racine. He will understand how to get things done and involve residents effectively in the political process.

White has won the support of the DC Sierra Club, DC for Democracy, the JUFJ Campaign Fund, and councilmember Mary Cheh.

No to Orange

Vincent Orange, the incumbent, simply is not a constructive force on the DC Council. He introduces legislation that is simultaneously overly specific and poorly thought through.

He introduced sloppy (and likely illegal) legislation to stop creation of new housing. Then he jumped on the "tiny houses" bandwagon with a "gimmicky" piece of legislation. He even submitted two conflicting bills about Airbnb.

Maybe it's because we're wonks, but we'd like our elected officials and their staffs to actually be thinking about a policy issue and trying to solve it. Orange doesn't seem to.


Robert White (left) and David Garber (right) images from the candidates. Base balance scale image from Shutterstock.

What about David Garber?

The third candidate in the race is David Garber. We like him a great deal. In fact, he has been an active part of the Greater Greater Washington community in the past. A number of our contributors are his personal friends. He has a strong grasp of policy issues and good values about them.

While an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for the Navy Yard area, he consistently supported adding more housing while also fighting for more affordable housing. He posted a really smart series of tweets about this issue recently, which sound just like what we might say.

On transportation, Garber has cheered efforts toward dedicated bus lanes. He told Edward Russell, "I think it's really important that we invest in things like better dedicated bus service and 16th Street NW is a great example of that."

He would make an excellent councilmember, and if he were in a head to head race with Vincent Orange, we would eagerly endorse him.

However, the fact of this race is that there are two candidates who are very strong on our issues. There is little actual policy difference between David Garber and Robert White; meanwhile, Robert White has an advantage on experience and, most importantly, likelihood of winning.

When should you vote strategically?

In the past, there's been considerable debate among our readers, contributors, and editors about whether to vote for the person you like the most, or the one who's most likely to beat a bad alternative.

During Vincent Orange's last race in 2012, Sekou Biddle almost beat him, with 39% of the vote to Orange's 42%. But Peter Shapiro, whom we endorsed, ended up with 11%. If enough of Shapiro's supporters had gone to Biddle over Orange, Biddle could have prevailed.

Other times, "vote your heart" has had value. Sometimes a candidate doesn't win, but getting more votes positions him or her for a later run. In a 2013 special election, we supported Elissa Silverman. She didn't win (Anita Bonds did), but her strong performance positioned her well for the following year's at-large independent contest, where she won a seat.

This contest, however, is somewhat different from 2012. Robert White is genuinely a good candidate, not a distant second best. Some allied groups that supported Shapiro in 2012 are now enthusiastically behind White. There are both fewer (if any) reasons not to support White, and a stronger accumulating consensus in his favor.

In giving their views on the race, several contributors said they liked Garber, but simply didn't know White that well; many said that if White seemed to have the edge, they'd rally to his side. We wish there were a good, independent poll to help people decide (it's very unclear whether to put any stock in this one).

We actually had a whole post written about how we weren't quite yet ready to make up our minds. After more endorsements for White rolled in and evidence mounted that he had the strongest chance to beat Orange, our editors and many contributors agreed that voters would do best to support Robert White.

Early voting begins May 31, and election day is June 14. There is no contested race for any party other than the Democrats. You can find out more about times and places to vote here.

This is the official endorsement of Greater Greater Washington. To determine endorsements, we invite regular contributors and editors to participate in a survey about their preferences and opinions about upcoming races. The editorial board then decides whether to make an endorsement.

Politics


For Arlington County Board: Erik Gutshall

On June 14, Arlington Democrats will choose a nominee for one of the five seats on their county board. We encourage voters to support Erik Gutshall in his efforts to unseat incumbent Libby Garvey in the Democratic primary on June 14.


Erik Gutshall. Image from the candidate.

Erik Gutshall has served Arlington well as a member of its planning commission and wants to bring a forward-looking philosophy to Arlington. He told Saty Reddy, "Are we going to stay true to progressive values or turn inward and insular? Does Arlington want to be push bold ideas, or be stagnant?"

On housing, Gutshall wants to ensure that middle-class residents have opportunities to live in Arlington as well, by adding more "medium-scale, neighborhood-density" housing. Arlington has built many high-rises, but has added no residents in many other neighborhoods.

On transportation, he has committed to finding a good solution to transportation needs along Columbia Pike, for strengthening bicycle infrastructure and pedestrian-friendly design. He will make it a priority to identify solutions to Arlington's school capacity problems and supports funding for the county's recently-passed affordable housing plans.

Overall, Gutshall has demonstrated a strong grasp of the challenges facing Arlington and an ability to work with others to find solutions.

Why you should not vote for Garvey

Libby Garvey, his opponent, has not demonstrated these qualities. She is often surprisingly poorly versed on policy issues and has not built consensus toward solutions.

She has said things we like on issues including development and pedestrian or bicycle infrastructure. But on other issues, her statements worked as political sound bites but were logically nonsensical.

With Columbia Pike's streetcar now long dead, Garvey continues to promote false choices that obfuscate rather than enlighten.

When Saty Redy interviewed her, she cited Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) as a possible transportation approach. The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, one of BRT's biggest backers, says a BRT line needs to have "at least three kilometers of dedicated bus lanes" to be true BRT. That's not possible on Columbia Pike.

Back when the streetcar debate was raging, opponents continually showed pictures of buses in dedicated lanes like in the suburbs of Eugene, Oregon despite there being no space to fit such things on Columbia Pike. When pressed, they acknowledged that there wouldn't be a dedicated lane on Columbia Pike, but then kept talking about how great BRT is in other cities.

Garvey was at the time not overtly a part of the opposition group, but even now as board chair, she continues to push that same misleading idea. She mentioned Los Angeles' rapid bus system and said 90% of US BRT lacks dedicated lanes. But what Garvey didn't say was that most of LA's buses aren't BRT (only the Orange Line in the San Fernando Valley, which has a lane) and that most BRT advocates are really frustrated at how many cities claim their buses are "BRT" but aren't.

It's politically convenient to use a term that sounds great and then build not-great transit. Rail in mixed traffic might not have been so great either, but had other benefits like capacity. Garvey and other opponents were not, and still are not, willing to debate on the actual pros and cons of the issue; instead, they pretended, and now pretend, that there's a magic transit solution out there which only they have the courage to implement.

On I-66 widening, county officials had a solid agreement about what to push for and what the county would give up, and had reached consensus with state legislators. But several Arlington leaders say Garvey then undermined that consensus and Arlington's unified front in direct conversations with delegates. In the end, the legislature pushed through a worse version of the I-66 plan.

Garvey sounded compelling on development in our interview. Saty Reddy wrote, "Garvey would like to loosen zoning laws and housing regulations to allow more flexibility when it comes to developing residential units. This includes everything from streamlining the process for developers so smaller projects become more economically feasible to easing restrictions on accessory dwelling units and promoting affordable dwelling units, she says."

But votes she has made against funding affordable housing are troubling. There's a dangerous trend in Arlington of affluent neighborhoods turning against funding for projects, whether transit, housing, or others, in less-wealthy south Arlington.

Garvey won office in part on the wave of that sentiment, which ultimately drove three of the county board's long-serving members to step down. Those leaders have been attacked unfairly for their efforts to make Arlington a better place.

Even if they made some mistakes, they wanted to move Arlington forward. Garvey has not shown the drive to do this. Gutshall says he will. He deserves that chance.

All registered Arlington voters regardless of party are eligible to vote in the Democratic primary on June 14. Find out where and how to vote here.

This is the official endorsement of Greater Greater Washington. To determine endorsements, we invite regular contributors and editors to participate in a survey about their preferences and opinions about upcoming races. The editorial board then decides whether to make an endorsement. No Arlington County employees participated in any way in the survey, deliberations, final decision, or writing for this endorsement.

Politics


A chat with Arlington County Board candidate Libby Garvey

Libby Garvey is running for re-election to the Arlington County Board against challenger businessman Erik Gutshall. She wants to continue to streamline and ease county regulations to make it a place residents can call "great."


Libby Garvey. Image from the Arlington County Board.

Garvey is all about attracting people to Arlington, which she described as "a smart, capable, and educated community," in an April interview with Greater Greater Washington. Good transit, affordable housing (especially for middle income earners), education, and making the county friendly to businesses all play a part in this effort.

First, however, Garvey wants to set the record straight about her "initiative" as board chair. Her opponent, Erik Gutshall, has made a point of her comments to the Arlington Chamber of Commerce that her initiative was "no initiative." But Garvey says those comments were taken out of context.

"My push is to work on strategic planning, to get us thinking holistically about things," she says, pointing out that historically the incoming board chair would have a pet project or agenda—an initiative—that they would push forward. This process led to a new initiative every time there was a new chair, which is something she wants to avoid.

"Moving forward, if I've got an initiative I want to make sure my whole board is on board," says Garvey.

Good transit for Arlington is a priority

Garvey believes Arlington should provide people with "good transit," giving them the ability to get around the county without a car. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and other improvements to the county's bus network are an important part of this.

She points to the Crystal City Potomac Yard Transitway that opened in April and plans for a bus rapid transit line along Route 7 as examples of BRT investments in the county that are moving forward.

However, Garvey insists that dedicated lanes are not a requirement for BRT.

"A dedicated lane is something you want to have and would like to have but don't need it," she says.

Los Angeles has implemented what is "essentially" a BRT system without dedicated lanes, says Garvey, adding that 90% of US BRT does not have such lanes according to multiple experts.

She is likely referring to Los Angeles's Metro Rapid bus service. The dense network of frequent bus lines with limited signal priority across the county is widely considered a successful express bus network—just not BRT.

Transit experts generally agree that Los Angeles' only BRT line is the Orange Line busway, which runs in a dedicated transitway from the North Hollywood subway station to the Warner Center and Chatsworth in the San Fernando Valley.

"There are a lot of tools in the basket," says Garvey on transit improvements. A countywide transit development plan, which is likely to include things like signal priority and off-board fare payment for buses, is in the works.

One tool that is likely not in Garvey's basket is a streetcar. She is well known for her opposition to the Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcars that were cancelled after the election of county board member John Vihstadt in 2014. She argued at the time that similar transit improvements could be achieved through improved bus service at a far lower cost.

I-66 could be a new source of revenue... and park space?

Garvey is watching the plans to widen I-66 inside the beltway in exchange for the addition of tolls from 2017 closely.

"We've been assured that when [the Commonwealth of Virginia] is talking about widening they're not going to widen the roadbed," she says. "We're watching very closely."

The compromise came after years of Arlington objecting to the widening of any of the highways in the county, including a controversial lawsuit against Virginia to stop the I-395 HOT lanes. Asked why the county did not object to the latest proposal, Garvey says she feels the county can achieve more by working with elected representatives in Richmond than by working against them.

"It's all about soft power," she says.

Garvey has some interesting ideas for how Arlington can use the revenue generated by the new tolls on I-66. For example, a BRT line on Route 50 could help alleviate some of the congestion on I-66, she says.

Another idea Garvey has for I-66 is acquiring the air rights over the freeway to build new park space. Discussions with officials over acquiring the rights that would allow Arlington to deck over the depressed highway are on going, she says.

The deck would have a lower level for parking and buses with new green space and pedestrian paths above.

"We need the ability to knit our community back together," says Garvey.

Schools and housing influence quality of life

Garvey stresses that she wants to make Arlington a "great" place to live. The topic is clearly an important one to her, as she repeatedly returns to quality of life and attracting new residents to the county in her comments.

A key part of this is keeping housing affordable, especially for those in the middle of the economic ladder. Garvey would like to loosen zoning laws and housing regulations to allow more flexibility when it comes to developing residential units. This includes everything from streamlining the process for developers so smaller projects become more economically feasible to easing restrictions on accessory dwelling units and promoting affordable dwelling units, she says.

"There's a lot of really local government regulations and code that we can look at and improve," says Garvey.

In addition, she wants to preserve existing affordable housing stock, like older garden apartments, when there is pressure to replace them with new development.

Quality education is key to a great Arlington for Garvey. County schools have improved from unattractive to new parents to ones that are considered a great place to raise kids during the more than 15 years since she first joined the school board, she says.

Garvey sees room for further improvement. She wants to bring Arlington schools into the twenty-first century by increasing access to technology and improve training opportunities outside the classroom, she says.

Improvements are also needed for the county's business climate. In addition to easing the approvals process for developers, Garvey wants to energize Arlington's economic development office to go out and actively recruit new businesses, especially technology businesses.

On the whole, Garvey focuses on largely process improvements—streamlining regulations to review the zoning code for example—for Arlington rather than hard goals.

The Arlington county primary election is on June 14th.

Politics


Bummed DC isnít a state? Here are 5 reasons local politics are still worth your time

If you live in DC, it can be pretty easy to become disenchanted with national politics—especially in this election cycle. National is the operative word, though! Here are five reasons it's worth engaging in DC's local politics, from the ballot box to the community forum.


Photo by justgrimes on Flickr.

1. Voting in DC still matters

Washington, DC attracts people from all over the country. However, even if people stay here for a number of years, a lot of them choose to hold on to the voting privileges of their home state.

The District's lack of voting representation in Congress and its three electoral votes in Presidential elections might seem like fair justification for voting in another state (even though that's technically illegal)—especially if you come from a Presidential swing state.

But doing so deprives you of power in DC's local elections for Mayor, City Council, ANCs, and more. Though they may not be on national news every day, the people sitting in those positions make decisions that are much more likely to impact your day-to-day life and shape the city you live in.

Many local elections—particularly for ANC, where the candidate may very well be your nextdoor neighbor—are won by only a handful of votes, which means a single vote can have much more sway locally than in even the most competitive swing states.

DC even makes registering to vote relatively easy. Most of the registration process can be done online, and there's even same-day registration if you provide nearly any kind of documentation.

2. Important referendums are coming up

In fact, the coming months may prove to be one of the most consequential times to be a DC voter.

Just last week, Mayor Bowser announced a plan to put the question of DC statehood up to a vote. While the fight for statehood is decades-long, the idea is now gaining new momentum: the DC government's has strongly asserted budget autonomy over Congress, and national support for statehood is at an all time high. Though the struggle is far from over, there is no doubt that a plebiscite this year on statehood would be significant.

In addition, the path is now clear for a vote this November on a $15 minimum wage, the results of which will have a lasting impact on the district's labor force and economy.

3. You can be an expert

Issues in national politics can sometimes be extremely complicated. Wonks and academics spend lifetimes studying things like healthcare or foreign policy, while partisans spend lifetimes reframing them.

There's also a learning curve to local politics, but many people who have no background can become fluent much more quickly. After all, it tends to be easier to understand the ins and outs of an issue when it involves the people around you, the sidewalks you walk on, the schools in your backyard, and so on. A good place to start are many of the local and hyper-local blogs on the sidebar of this very site.

The other thing about DC is that relatively speaking, it's a small town. You can get to know political lineage, like Muriel Bowser coming up under Adrian Fenty and now Brandon Todd under Bowser, and the history is both accessible and fascinating (think Dream City). Also, the Washington City Paper has a reporter dedicated to the local beat, and there are lots of blogs that can help give you a complete understanding of what's happening in DC.

4. Meeting your neighbors

Getting involved in local politics is a good way to make new friends who care about the same things as you. Even when you disagree with folks on issues, you often find out that you share a lot in common.

Because of my attendance at events like the DDOT Crosstown Study and Ward 1 shelter meetings, I've gotten to know a few of my direct neighbors—folks I most likely wouldn't have gotten to meet otherwise. Especially if you're new to the city or just new to a neighborhood, involving yourself in the local and hyper-local level is a stellar opportunity to interact with people around you while learning about the issues that impact you.

5. You can make a difference

The biggest, most important reason to get involved in local politics: you matter. The number of donors, activists, and voters in local elections (even those in large cities) is small, both in raw terms and percentage terms. Your voice, your volunteer time, and your campaign donations matter. Organize 50 people for a presidential rally and you have a poorly-attended rally for media to laugh at; organize 50 people for a local organization and you have a powerful force for Council Members to pay attention to.

So if change is what you want, turn your eyes local, get out there, and make it happen!

A version of this post originally ran on Austin on your Feet.

Politics


A chat with Arlington County Board candidate Erik Gutshall

Arlington businessman Erik Gutshall has thrown his hat in the ring for the county board democratic primary, challenging incumbent Board member Libby Garvey.


Erik Gutshall. Image from his campaign.

A resident and former civic association president of Lyon Park, it would be easy for Gutshall to sit back and hope that the democratic electorate punishes Garvey for endorsing independent John Vihstadt in his successful 2014 election to the county board. The result there was the death of the Columbia Pike streetcar along with Board members Walter Tejada and Mary Hynes deciding not seek re-election.

Gutshall, however, views his race as more a referendum on the future of Arlington than one on Garvey's actions in office.

"Are we going to stay true to progressive values or turn inward and insular? Does Arlington want to be push bold ideas, or be stagnant?," he said in an interview with Greater Greater Washington. According to Gutshall, Garvey told the Arlington Chamber of Commerce that her initiative was "no initiative."

Gutshall has Planning Commission roots

Gutshall is a proponent of smart growth. He has worked on the Arlington County Planning Commission for almost three years and understands how important it is to develop urban, mixed-use districts, like the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor that is known nationally as a prime example of transit oriented development.

He has also been a member of a number of local committees, ranging from the Western Rosslyn Area Planning Study Task Force to the Site Plan Review Committee involved with Clarendon area projects.

Gutshall says that his background provides him with a solid understanding of how to balance urban planning with economic development, noting that the latter drives the ability to effectively accomplish the former. Without urban planning, he says, Arlington could end up a developer-driven, auto-oriented suburb like Tysons Corner.

He also believes smart growth is connected to all of the other issues that affect Arlington. For example, on the issue of Arlington county schools, Gutshall says "it is important to incorporate school development into long-range land use and transportation planning."

"We have to look at how many students a density plan will result in and how transportation systems would address this," he says. "We have to be forward thinking, rather than just coming up with short-term solutions."

When it comes to housing costs, Gutshall points out that Arlington has done a great job keeping single-family homes while encouraging high-rise development. However, it has not accomplished its goal of building intermediate housing—something he calls the "missing middle"—for those who earn between 80% and 120% of area median income (AMI), he says.

In order to attract the best employees for the new Arlington business climate, Gutshall advocates for market rate housing alongside housing affordability. Although Arlington has seen a decline in commercial high-rise occupancy, it continues to push forward in becoming a hub for technology and health-oriented small- and medium-size businesses even as it faces stiff competition from other developing communities, such as Tyson's Corner.

He's also a local business owner

Gutshall brings a unique background of both business—he owns the home improvement contractor business Clarendon Home Servicesand civic engagement to the county board race. He hopes this background will help address some of the major issues that resulted in former county board member Alan Howze's loss to Vihstadt in 2014.

The Arlington County Board frequently gets criticism that it ignored the concerns of residents, and Gutshall points to his successful business as reason to believe he would help reverse that course—losing the trust of customers, the thinking goes, is a costly endeavor.

Transportation is on Gutshall's radar

Gutshall says widening I-66 is not consistent with smart growth. He says the original compromise, which would have delayed widening 66 for at least five years until multi-modal improvements have a chance to reduce congestion, was a good deal. He doesn't think so about the more recent regional compromise announced in February, in which the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) will build a third lane in each direction on the interstate to Fairfax Drive inside the Beltway. In exchange, outer-suburb legislators will support the governor's plan to convert the current peak-direction HOV-2 operation to HOT-2 lanes.

Gutshall notes that Arlington will have a seat at the table and be able to use toll revenue to develop other modes of transportation, like bike trails, bus service, and Metro.

Arlington has long opposed widening I-66 inside the beltway, favoring instead more of the alternative transportation options Gutshall mentions.

One thing Gutshall says he would do if elected to the council is push for Arlington to have an advanced transportation system, though he's not firm on exactly what that system would look like. This would undoubtedly include some form of improvements along the Columbia Pike corridor, though he agrees that the streetcar there is dead.

Correction: The original version of this post said that Gutshall supported the most recent I-66 widening deal. He emailed us to clarify that he supported a previous agreement, but that he sees the recent regional compromise as "short-sighted and disappointing."

Politics


Why Montgomery County school board is the race to watch in 2016

Montgomery County school board elections are usually pretty sleepy. But as the county's once-vaunted schools struggle to serve a more diverse population, the "achievement gap" is causing this year's race to heat up.


Montgomery County students marched to protest the achievement gap, which is an election year issue.

Montgomery County Public Schools has grown rapidly in recent years, but has also become more segregated by race and class. Student performance is slipping, particularly in schools with a concentration of minority and low-income students. School officials have been reluctant to address the problem or even admit that it exists.

Schools make up half of the county's $5 billion annual budget, and the teachers' union's coveted "Apple Ballot" endorsements have had a big influence on local elections. But that's changed as the school system's performance has slipped. Jill Ortman-Fouse won a seat on the board in 2014 after campaigning to reform the system; three months later, superintendent Josh Starr resigned when he realized a majority of the board no longer supported renewing his contract.

Meet the candidates

There are three open seats this year, but two of them have two candidates, who will both go on to the general election in November. But a three-way race has formed for the at-large seat between incumbent Phil Kauffman, retired principal Jeanette Dixon, and former teacher and student board member Sebastian Johnson. One Montgomery, the school equity group I helped start, interviewed all three. (Full disclosure: we've endorsed Johnson.)

Kauffman, lives in Olney and was a PTA activist before joining the board in 2008. His wife teaches at Blake High School, which both of his daughters also graduated from (more disclosure: I was friends with them in high school). He ran as a reformer in 2008, calling for greater transparency in budget decisions and changes to the middle school curriculum. At the time, he said the school board was too cozy with the superintendent and needed to be more independent. Two terms later, he defended keeping Starr as superintendent, and as president of the board in 2014, he joined Starr in threatening to cut programs for high-needs students if the school system didn't get a $15 million budget increase.

Dixon, who lives in East County, is familiar with the challenges facing the county's majority-minority, high-poverty schools. She was principal at Paint Branch High School (and before that, my principal at White Oak Middle School) before retiring three years ago. Since then, she's been an outspoken critic of the school system and proponent of big ideas. At a League of Women Voters forum on the achievement gap last fall, she said that students should be allowed to attend any high school in the county, regardless of where they live.

In January 2015, she published an open letter blasting Starr, calling him ineffective and saying he only cared about "protecting the MCPS brand." The letter may have helped turn public support away from him. (Inside sources say Starr has been quietly campaigning against her, calling her "dangerous" for the school system.) She's refused endorsements from elected officials, but has a long list of testimonials from faculty she's worked with and former students.

Johnson argues he can provide a new perspective to a board where members are often shut down for going against the grain. At 27, he's by far the youngest candidate, and describes himself as proof that schools can close the achievement gap. A former teacher and student member of the board, he grew up in a single-parent household in Takoma Park before attending Georgetown, Harvard, and the London School of Economics.

The Takoma Park resident talks about the "intersectionality" of schools and factors outside the classroom, pointing out that students can't learn if their families can't afford health care or stable, decent housing. He wants more "wraparound services" like health centers at schools, while increasing minority student access to the county's largely segregated magnet programs. He hopes his existing relationships with county councilmembers can smooth the often adversarial relationship the board has with other county agencies.

Here's the outlook

While Kauffman and Dixon have long histories in the county, and Dixon may most reflect voters' frustration, it seems like Johnson has the most momentum. He's raised over $20,000 (though his campaign stresses that most donations are small), an anomaly when most school board races are won for half that and incumbents barely raise money at all. He's gotten endorsements from several elected officials, including county councilmembers George Leventhal (who he once interned for) and Nancy Navarro (who he served with on the school board), and state delegate Marc Korman.

Kauffman's tried to pull support from his two black opponents by getting endorsements from black electeds like County Executive Ike Leggett, state delegate Al Carr, and county councilmember Craig Rice. But Rice has also publicly made glowing remarks about Johnson, saying, "We need more young people like Sebastian to step up and keep our county moving forward." Board of Education member Judy Docca, who also endorsed Kauffman, donated money to Johnson's campaign.

Normally, the Montgomery County Educators Association (the teachers' union) endorses the incumbent, almost guaranteeing their reelection. But they didn't endorse Kauffman or anyone else, suggesting that the union's members are split.

That may reflect a broader disagreement about the school system. Kauffman's supporters (like Starr's supporters) might argue that while things aren't perfect, the current leadership is doing a pretty good job. Dixon's and Johnson's supporters have a growing body of evidence to say that Montgomery County schools aren't doing enough to serve an increasingly diverse student body. If the 2014 election is a sign, this argument might be gaining ground.

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